Maleficent vs Cinderella and the Heroes We Give Our Children

by | Mar 20, 2015 | Catholic Mom Movie Review | 40 comments

I almost didn’t go to see Disney’s new Cinderella, and I certainly didn’t plan to take my daughters to see it. Why? Because I saw Maleficent.

Maleficent is everything that’s wrong with a modern re-imagining of a classic story. It takes a tale of good vs evil and twists it into moral relativism. It is a movie marketed to children that features the mutilation (intended by the actress and filmmakers to symbolize the rape) of our heroine by her childhood sweetheart, and then uses that act of violence to excuse her descent into tyranny and violence. The worldview of this film is that true romantic love does not exist. Maleficent is betrayed and dismembered by the man she loved, in order that he might gain power and prestige. And, in the climax of the film, as Princess Aurora lays in a death-like sleep, under the curse placed upon her by the spiteful Maleficent, Prince Philip kisses her . . . and she doesn’t awaken. Only Maleficent’s own warped pseudo-maternal love is true enough to awaken the princess.

So. Messed. Up.

I very nearly swore off Disney live action remakes forever. But . . . what can I say, I’m a romantic. Once I starting hearing good things about Cinderella, I decided that the girls and I should give it a chance.

So we got ourselves gussied up (Betty is Cinderella, Anita is her mouse friend) . . .

and we went to go see it.

I am very glad we did.

I haven’t loved every bit of a movie this much since I saw Les Miserables. That movie, of course, isn’t for kids. But this one is
for everyone. I sat next to my daughters in the theater as they laughed
aloud at the jokes, and gasped in awe at the beauty, and cried rolling
tears at the tragedy, and applauded at the triumphs, and swooned at the
romance. Every second of it was a joy to behold and to share.

Cinderella gets everything right where Maleficent got it wrong. Cinderella also suffers tragedy and cruelty, but instead of descending into evil herself, she follows the advice given to her by her dying mother: to “have courage, and be kind.”

Cinderella the character is strong where Maleficent the character is weak, and Cinderella the film is true where Maleficent the film is false.

Cinderella is the best of all worlds. The cinematography and
sets are breathtaking. Going into it, I couldn’t imagine
how they were going to do the mice, but they totally pull it off. The
estate and the grounds and Cinderella’s attic are all filled with the
most extraordinary details. Her carriage and the palace are all
beautifully over the top, as are all the dresses.

The writing is
great, the casting is great. The romance is <sigh> perfect. The
character development is excellent. Maleficent completely dispenses with the canon of Sleeping Beauty by telling us that we think we know what happened, but . . . really we don’t. And then they just totally change EVERYTHING. In contrast, the new Cinderella is utterly true to the spirit and the general plot of
the Disney cartoon and is enhanced by extra elements from the Perrault
fairy tale. It’s better than its source material.

As in real life, in the movie there are people who are noble and try to
do good and there are people who are ignoble, scarred by selfishness and
damaged by their choices. The writers give Cinderella’s stepmother and
stepsisters reasons, but not excuses. And Cinderella’s responses to
their cruelty just get more and more beautiful as the movie progresses.

Maleficent wants to tell my daughters that love is not to be trusted, that men who seem to love you will betray you, and hurt you, and you’ll have no choice but to become evil. Maleficent wants to tell my sons that sometimes a man will violate the woman he loves in order to gain professional advancement, and that sometimes a man is just an impotent pretty boy who cannot save the woman he loves, who cannot even truly love the woman he loves.

But Cinderella believes in love. Cinderella teaches my daughters that they are worthy of love. Cinderella’s parents love and cherish her, their love and their lessons make her strong enough to survive their deaths, and their legacy is that she can suffer cruelty with her charity intact. Cinderella teaches my daughter that a good and noble man could love her for her strength and honesty and courage and kindness, despite the obstacles between them. Cinderella teaches my sons that they can be good and loving husbands, fathers, sons, and friends.

I think those lessons matter. I really do. I think the movies we love as children color our worldview.

I am, frankly, astounded that a movie as full of goodness and self-sacrifice, and truth and beauty even exists. I am grateful to
have seen it with my daughters. I have every intention of having my boys
watch it as well. I’m not sure what they’ll make of it. But it’s that
good. I have to try.

I can’t encourage you enough to go out and
support this movie. If you have the means, please go see it in the
theaters. This is what we want in our entertainment, this is what we
want influencing our daughters and our culture. It is a true and good
and beautiful movie.

For a deeper look at how Cinderella really does get it right, check out:

Charity Has Power and How Disney Didn’t Ruin Cinderella

P.S. For pretty much exactly these same reasons (right down to the first-love-turned-ambitious-murderous-maniac and the ineffective true love’s kiss), my family owns Tangled, but not Frozen. There’s a right way and a wrong way for young ladies to react to adversity. And I don’t want my daughters to doubt for one second that true love is real and has the power to save them.

You might also enjoy . . .

What Went Right With Les Misérables: and Why I’m Sad My Kids Can’t See It Yet

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Fracture a Fairy Tale . . . 

Update:  Based on the very interesting comment thread going on Facebook
from when I posted this this morning, I should clarify something. . . .

I didn’t personally enjoy watching Maleficent, but different folks have
different taste in movies. I do not have a problem with adults watching
it, and I understand that for some people who have already experienced
tragic or violent relationships, Maleficent can feel empowering and give
them hope.

However, the movie is rated PG, it’s based on a beloved children’s
cartoon, and it was very clearly marketed to children and families. I
think Maleficent sends a confusing and inappropriate message to children
about how best to confront the difficulties and cruelties that all
children will face in their lives (although, I pray, not to the extent
that Maleficent and Cinderella do). Cinderella also faces cruelty and
tragedies, but chooses to approach them in a way that, in the end, makes
HER happier and more empowered. That is the kind of inspiration I want
for my children.

If there’s any question as to how it was marketed, I submit the following promotional still . . .

‪#‎teamcinderella‬ That’s all.



  1. Anna

    My daughter and I saw Cinderella on Sunday we loved it I was looking for reviews before we went and I couldn't find any from my trusted resources so it was a bit of a risk. But the movie did not disappoint and I'm glad people are writing about it now.

  2. Mia Jude

    My husband and I never saw Maleficent because we heard such terrible things. Sleeping beauty is my husbands favorite Disney "princess" movie because of Prince Philip and he was SO disappointed after hearing how Prince Philip's character was portrayed in Maleficent. I'm so happy to be hearing positives all around about Cinderella. We were not going to see it because we were skeptical, but maybe we will now. And Yes, loved LES MIS so much! My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast, so I'm really hoping Disney gets that live action movie right too.

    • Kendra

      Me too! The plot of the Sleeping Beauty cartoon is a bit of a mess, if I'm being honest. But I think it's the most visually impressive of the classic cartoons, and I love Prince Phillip! Brave, outdoorsy, good dancer . . .

  3. Anonymous

    I completely agree. I am tired of the cyncism and agenda driven movies of Disney. Cinderella was beautiful and steeped in Christology. I have not been so happy seeing a movie in a long time.

  4. Janie De Lara

    I agree so wholeheartedly. I loved Cinderella–it made me feel like a girl again the way I was swooning over the romance and pretty dresses. Also, for the record, I loathe Frozen, too…and not just because the songs stink. I was always a Robin Hood or Jungle Book kinda gal as a kid. I am looking forward to the live-action Beauty and the Beast–Emma Watson is probably just about as perfect for Belle as anyone could possibly be.

  5. Amanda

    That is a pretty strongly positive review! You do such a good job of thinking these things through – sometimes I just, well, watch. We'll have to do this one.

    • Kendra

      Jim read it and said, "But did you LIKE it?" So . . . sorry for the gushing. 🙂

  6. Tall Girl on a Short Budget

    Do you think it would be appropriate for really young kids? Like toddlers? My girls are 1.5 and 2.5. This sounds awesome and I'd love to support it, but I doubt I can convince my husband to get a babysitter so he can see it with me. 😉

    • Kendra

      It has very sad parts, but not any scary parts, or even much in the way of peril, really. That's what always freaked my little kids out the most. Just lots of unfairness, and the deaths of parents.

      For kids that young, I'd say it just depends on if they are able to sit and watch stuff. Some of mine have been able to, and some haven't. Maybe if you suggest that your husband come to see it with you, HE'll offer to babysit. 😉

  7. Amanda

    Hehe, love the Frozen vs Tangled pic 🙂

    Thanks for reviewing this one! My friend and I are considering going to see Cinderella with our daughters too, I've heard only good reviews thus far and this seals the deal I think. Now I'm wondering if I ought to bring my 6 year old son too or just leave it as a girls' putting. Hmm…

  8. Amanda

    That was *outting*, stupid autocorrect thinks I don't know what I want to say.

  9. Marquette

    I LOVE this. You hit this on the head so eloquently. Thank you for your boldness!

    I think I live in a hole…I didn't even know there was a Cinderella moving coming out, but now I really really want to see it

  10. Faith E. Hough

    Okay, you've convinced me. When I first saw that Cinderella was being remade, I was super excited…and then I saw Maleficent on DVD and was disgusted until I fell asleep because it couldn't keep my interest. I woke up just in time to be disgusted at the ending. I am surprised and relieved to hear so many good things about Cinderella from sources I trust, so I think a girls' afternoon is in order. 🙂
    P.S. Same thoughts on Tangled vs. Frozen… The only thing the latter really has going for it is how pretty it is to look at if mute's on.

    • Kendra

      It is not a musical, there is a tiny bit of singing though. I think kids four and up would probably get the most out of it, but I wouldn't have any problem taking kids younger than that to see it.

  11. Anonymous

    I liked Maleficent.

    That being said, I don't think it's appropriate for anyone under, say, 30. And it shouldn't be viewed as a Sleeping Beauty remake, rather as a similar story with similar characters, but that has nothing to do with the original.

    I think it's a good story for adults who are experienced in discerning right from wrong, and who can watch a movie and accept the truth in it without feeling required to justify the characters' behavior.

    It spoke to me, as a woman who has experienced abuse, because it demonstrated the earth-shattering pain and disillusionment that can occur when one realizes that one's "fairy-tale prince" can, for unfathomable reasons, try to destroy the person he claimed to love. It shows someone who has suffered such hurt that it has caused her to become unhinged, to not be able to interact with the world as she always had done, and to have to re-evaluate everything she knew about human relationships.

    If you are a person fortunate enough to have never undergone that type of pain, then my advice about Maleficent would be: understand that, for some people, the “fairy-tale” ending doesn’t happen and that they have had to try to rebuild their lives and their expectations in what often does seem like an anti-Disney-movie dystopia. And while they still believe that the fairy tale can happen for some people, their life is never going to reflect that.

    I felt hope at the end of Maleficent because, contrarly to what she ever believed could happen, she was able to love again. And when you’ve doubted that even a pseudo-maternal love would ever be in your grasp, sometimes that is enough.

    • Kendra

      Thank you for weighing in, and I'm sorry for what you've been through. I agree with your age recommendation for Maleficent.

    • Anonymous

      Man, I just re-read this, and it came out way more depressing than I intended!

      I was trying to emphasize the positive lessons we can learn from Maleficent: to always be careful before judging anyone, no matter how horrible the things they do, because we never know what has happened to them in the past. Not an easy lesson to convey to children… And, it shows the perfidious nature of sin: even if we think it is justified, we never know how our wrong actions can snowball in other people's lives.

      On a TRULY positive note, if your daughters like Cinderella, look up St. Germaine Cousin! She's the original Cinderella saint: forced to work like a slave by an evil stepmother and stepsiblings, but perseveres in holiness. St. Germaine is from France and isn't well-known in the US, but I think she deserves some attention here!

    • Kathia

      I didn't like Maleficent (not a big fan of Disney) but I really resonate with what mrssell said. Betrayal isn't an excuse for acting uncharitably, but it can certainly help explain poor relational choices. And the hopelessness some of us feel about the impossibility of our ever experiencing romance is so crushing. Sometimes the Cinderella type of movie where the main character can look back at a healthy parental relationship (even though it was taken from them early on… at least they know where they are "from" and it gives them a sense of worth…) just rubs salt into the wounds. Unless we look at it as a heavenly analogy, with Christ as the romantic prince. That I can get behind.

  12. Nanacamille

    You three look beautiful and so glad the movie was a good one. I saw Maleficent on the airplane (free) and though it was TERRIBLE. I thought the Julia Roberts Sleeping Beauty was clever and funny but disliked the Kristen Stewart one. However I did just love Tangled and Frozen (best music since Andrew Lloyd Weber & Tim Rice split up). You can't mean that you liked the singing in Les Mis because they murdered some of the best songs ever. I am looking forward to seeing Cinderella and hope I can see it with some grandaughters. Thanks for the review.

  13. K

    It sounds like a neat movie…I wish cinderella's dress could be a bit modest up top…those pictures make me uncomfortable with my young daughter seeing it! I just can't stand cleavage showing! I don't like the message it sends young ladies!

  14. Staci

    I really enjoyed Cinderella, as did the two of my daughters who have seen it so far. But I second K's comment that the low cut dresses were a huge disappointment. My eldest daughter (11) said after the movie something like, "My friends and I all couldn't get over the dresses, and how every time Cinderella breathed in, it didn't fit her anymore." I found her breathing to be completely distracting with all the heaving bosoms, and would be less inclined to encourage it as a daddy-daughter date night for that reason. Her wedding dress was stunning, at least!

    • Caroline

      Some old-fashioned dresses were surprisingly immodest by current conservative standards. In Jane Austen's day women would put water on their already skin-tight dresses to make their figures pop.

  15. Kendra

    K and Staci, I see what you're saying, and I agree her wedding dress is very modest and beautiful. But I do think the low neckline on the blue dress is historically accurate for late seventeenth century French fashion. Examples here .

  16. Caroline

    What do you think of the live-action movie Enchanted? I haven't seen the new Cinderella movie, but so far Enchanted is my favorite retelling of a fairy tale. It does a great job of showing true romance while also playing with the tradition in a fun way, not an overly negative way.

    • Kendra

      I saw and enjoyed Enchanted when it came out, but my kids haven't seen it. The love interest guy is divorced, right? That makes it more complicated.

  17. Catie

    Maleficent didn't immediately strike me as a negative movie, but I guess I didn't really think it through. My boys are way too young to see most movies and they don't even know who Sleeping Beauty is, so I guess I didn't go into it with a mother's heart. I'm glad you pointed out the flaws. I need to be a more critical viewer.

    I am quickly becoming a more critical reader. I have been fighting a real battle with myself for months over The Hunger Games and subsequent films. I'm not sure enjoy is the right word to use, but I sure have thought a lot about the characters and the world they face. I am completely appalled though that these books are in the Young Adult section of the library and the films are PG13. I would not want my teens randomly choosing these books off the shelf. The lead character is in no way a heroine by the end of the series.

    And now I want to see Cinderella for the costumes alone.

    • Kendra

      Yeah, I really enjoyed the Hunger Games Series for myself, but she is a very flawed heroine. If my teenagers (when I have some) wanted to read them, there would need to be some guidance. I'd want them to read them alongside a book about the early Christian martyrs to see that, in a similar situation, there are some who refuse to participate in evil. But the only one I've read is Quo Vadis, and it's amazing, but has some really racy parts, but an excellent message. So . . . I don't know about that one for teenagers either.

  18. Anonymous

    Heh, that's exactly why I wouldn't take my kids to see it! #1 Angelina Jolie (more indicative than anything else that it's probably inappropriate), #2 dressed as the villain, #3 with a tagline celebrating evil — everything a parent needs to know to make a judgement call! 🙂

  19. vercfamily

    I always thought Malificent was targeted toward adults–perhaps because she looks so evil. I never thought it was a children's movie. I am excited to see Cinderella!

  20. Hannah

    "gives them reasons, not excuses"
    you hit the nail on the head, very good. I think that's what makes Shakespeare so good, his villains make sense, you can pity them and see how they got there, but he's not just excusing away their sins (for which they are still culpable), he's helping you understand them.
    You convinced me to watch Cinderella 🙂

  21. Hannah

    And I agree TANGLED > Frozen.
    Frozen was a mish-mash about (repression?? child-abuse victims? Nobody knows….)??? with no real badguy…other than we have nothing to fear but fear itself or something???
    Tangled was about sacrificial love. And I didn't even want to like the movie, and was pressed into it by my little sisters, and then, the moment that made the movie for me was when you think Flynn is going to kiss her, and instead he cuts her hair. The hair being, the only thing that can save him at that point. Which puts him in the exact same predicament as Mother Gothel, only, he chooses right.
    The symbols actually lined up. It was good.

  22. Anonymous

    This is a wonderful post! I want to say more of how this resonated with me (even though I don't have kids yet), but I don't know how to put it in words. Thank you for sharing!

  23. Wendy

    I took my daughter to Cinderella last weekend and I am so glad that I did! I have been disappointed in Disney movies as of late but this one was excellent. I tend to shy away from remakes but I highly recommend this one. The added touches only enhanced the move and didn't overshadow its message.

  24. Lindsay Himmer

    Thank you for putting into words all that was wrong with Maleficent! What a terrible movie. Cinderella, on the other hand, FABULOUS! I was so thrilled with the perfect portrayal of one of my most beloved fairy tales! My little girls are still a bit young for it, but I am so excited to show them this movie once they get a bit older!

  25. diane stavros

    Gosh, I just saw Maleficent, and your take on it sounds to me like you really didn't get it. I could see that it was a beautiful story of forgiveness and self-sacrificing love. My kids (son aged 13, daughter aged 16) could clearly see that, as well. Your review really does seem somewhat blind and "tone deaf." You said that it "uses that act of violence to excuse her descent into tyranny and violence." How was it in the least "excused"? She was fully repentant in the end. Also, that "The worldview of this film is that true romantic love does not exist." is not at all accurate. Maleficent is betrayed and dismembered by the man she loved, in order that he might gain power and prestige. Also, "… Maleficent's own warped pseudo-maternal love is true enough to awaken the princess." In what ways was her love "warped" or "pseudo-maternal"? And how can the love of someone who loves you like a mother be "inferior" to any other kind of love?

  26. Stephanie

    I am dying to see Cinderella and still haven't! Having just seen Maleficent, I remembered reading this and enjoying it a while back, but was surprised to have a pretty different reaction. I actually found myself very moved and saw a lot of Theology of the Body themes in the story–the fact that both secular and Christian culture seemed to miss this, yet the ideas were there, is just proof to me that the truths of TOB are universal, whether Hollywood intends to present them (and let's be real; they didn't intend to) or not.

    I can totally agree that Maleficent shouldn't have been marketed to families; perhaps rating-wise, a PG is fine, but as far as the actual content and sexual overtones, I'd say it would be appropriate for maybe 11 and ups (I just have a toddler and 33-week baby in utero right now, so who knows if that's accurate, but just my estimate!). Like Diane, I didn't feel the movie was asking us to excuse Maleficent's descent, but to look critically at why she did go down that path and to provide a realistic portrait of the toll sin can take on us, particularly through the hurts men and women inflict on each other (that, I think, is key: it was clear, to me, that Maleficent wasn't the only victim).

    Your view on the need for fairy tales needing to largely be black and white is interesting to me. You and I both love literature, and to me, its purpose is to illuminate the human heart, with both its virtue and its vice, in a way that's telling without being gratuitous (which is why, for instance, I think Maleficent has a powerful, worthy message within the context of a story of a soul's turn inward toward hatred, as compared to something like the show Game of Thrones, which I'm tired of Christians trying to justify as praiseworthy). I still have babies, not school-age kids with the reasoning capacities your older ones do, yet I'm still hesitant to think that beyond a very young age, completely black and white stories are the best models–without being morally relative or justifying bad behavior, I do think parents can encourage children to critically evaluate the good and bad sides of any character, which can provide a deeper truth about real life than someone who is solely morally pure or morally deplorable. That being said, the age at which I'd allow my children to see this movie, for the reasons of violent images and the sexual implications (which, again, I didn't find gratuitous or to be harping on an agenda; it's just that I'd want my kids to be at an age where they could at least understand, in a broad/only-what-they-need-to-know sense, the symbolism of the wing-cutting scene and what it means for the characters), is also the age at which I expect we'd be able to have more analytical conversations about moral complexities in storytelling.

    I wrote about my take on the movie and would truly be curious to hear your thoughts, marketing and a very young audience notwithstanding:


  1. Family Movie Nights, Are They Even Possible? . . . Our Favorite Movies (Mostly) Appropriate for All Ages - Catholic All Year - […] See also: Maleficent vs Cinderella and the Heroes We Give Our Children […]

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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